DOCUMENT RESUME 04758 - [E3634867] Highway Construction Ztne Safety: Not Yet Achievcd. CED-78-10; b-164457(3). December 23, 1977. 23 pp. + 2 appendices (9 pp.). Report to Secretary, Department of Transportation; by Henry Eschwege, Director, Community and Economic Development Div. Issue Area: Transportation Systems and Policies: Motor Vehicle-highway Transportation System (2408); Consumer and worker Protection: Death and Serious Disability Caused by wo.kplace Safety Hazards (910). Contact: Community and Economic Development Div. Budget Function: Commerce and Transportation: Ground Transportation (404). OrJanizaticn Concerned: Federal Highway Administration. Congressional Relevance: House Committee on Public Works and Transportation; Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works. Authority: Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976 (P.L. 94-280). Highway Safety Act of 1966 (80 Stat. 731). The Federal Highway Administration has expressed concern about construction zone safety for over 11 years, but this ccncern has not always been reflected in the safety provisions made by State highway agencies. FiLdings/ConcluEions: Unsafe conditions existed at all of the 26 construction sites visited in 7 States. Designs for worksite safety varied widely from State to State and from project to project. Although the Highwuy Administration has taken some actions to improve driving environments, these actions do not fully address the problems observed. By developing additional guidance on how and when to use traffic control devices, by improving field office inspection procedures, and by providing training, the Highway Administration and the States can greatly improve the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and work crews in highway construction zones. Recommendations: The Secretary of TransFcrtation should: direct the Administrator of the Federal Highway Administration to revise the Manual cn Uniform Tr'ffic Control Devices tc include specific guidance on bow and when to use traffic control devices in construction zones; require training to hell i sure -hat Federal and State officials are made aware of the importance cf construction zone safety and have the capability to plan for., implement, and inspect these safety measures; and establish field office inspection procedurE;s to identify hazardous conditions and insure *nat they are corrected. (Author/SC) UNI TED s TA TFS co * I all- GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFI(CE -4- Id IHighway Construction Zone Safety--Not Yet Achieved The Highway Administration has expressed concern about construction /one safety for over 11 years, but this concern was not al ways reflected in the safety provisions made by State highway agencies. At all of the 26 construction sites GAO visited, unsafe condi tions existed. GAO found that designs fo' worksite safety varied widely from State to State and project to project. Although the Highway Administration has taken somnie a tions to mDrove driving ePvirorments, Lnese actions do not fully address the problems GAO fouild. Accordingly, the Federal Highway Adminis tralion needs to develop additional prnogram guidance, provide atrd promote more training, and strengthen the i-lsp:actioi procedures (; its field offices. CED 7810 DECEMBER 23, 1977 UNITED STATES GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE WASHINGTON, D.C. 20548 COMMUNITY AND ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT DIVISION B-164497(3! The Honorable The Secretary of Transportation Dear Mr. Secretary: We have reviewed the efforts being made by t' Federal Highway Administration to increase safety in highway con- struction zones. This report presents the results of that review. Our report contains several recommendations to you which, if implemented, will improve the safet', environment on future Federal-aid highway projects. The report was discussed with Federal Highway Administration program officials, and their comments were considered in preparing the report. As you know, section 236 of the Legislative Reorganiza- tion Act of 1970 requires the head of a Federal agency to sub- mit a written statement on actions taken on our recommerndations to the House Committee on Government Operations and the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs not later than 60 day. after the date of the report and to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations with the agency's first request foT- appro- priations made more than 60 days after the date of the report. Copies of this repnrt are being sent to the House and Senate Committees on Appropriations; the House Committee on Public Works and Transportation; the Senate Committce on Environment and Public Works; the House Committee on Govern- ment Operations; the Senate Committee on Governmental Affairs; and the Acting Director, Office of Management and Budget. Sincerely yours, Henry Eschwege Director GENERAL ACCOUNTING OFFICE HIGHWAY CONSTRUCTiON ZONE REPORT TO THE SECRETARY SAFETY--NOT YET ACHIEVED OF TRANSPORTATION DIGEST Because highway accident rates are higher in construction zones, it is important that States take special efforts at these worksites to pro- tect motorists, pedestrians, and work crews. (See p. 1.) Tha Federal Highway Administration has been emphasizing safety in 'iighway construction zones since 1966. Howver, the hazards GAO found indicated that in 11 years this emphasis has not always reached responsible project level officials at Highway Administration field offices and State highway agencies. When designing, implementing, and inspecting highway worksites, these project officials have not been devoting enough attention to safety. GAO believes this occurred because they did not always know how to make work- sites safe, did not adequately appreciate the need for safety in construction zones, or placed higher priority on other matters, such as construction quality. Accordingly, the Federal Highway Administra- tion needs to develop additional program guidance, provide and promote more training, and strengthen the inspection procedures of its field offices. (See p. 4.) Since the early 1970s States have been using increasingly larger portions of their Federal- aid funds for rebuilding highways. GAO's review of Construction zone safety i? seven States--Louisianla, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington--re- vealed widely varying safety deficiencies at the 26 sites visited. cIaaL5II.' Upon r moval. the rport cover date should be noted hereon. CED-78-10 The following photograph shows one of the prob- lems found. A series of 1-foot-deep pavement cutouts ex- tending across the centerline were marked by posi.ioning drums between the hazards in- stead of next to them. At night, a motorist may riot notice the dropoff because his atten- tion is on the barrels. This could be langer- ous if he leaves the left lane and drives between the barrels. Other safety hazards are shown on pages 5 to 12. Altiouoh the States or local jurisdiction, managing Federal-aid highway reconstruction are responsible, for assuring safety, the Fed- eral Government has an overview responsibility. The Highway Administration has recognized prob- lems in achieving safe construction zones. It has proposed regulations to insure that States address the potential hazards at each worksite, has undertaken research, has develop&a and sponsored training programs, and is workirq to ii upgrade its manual of acceptable traffic con- trol devices. (See p. 1i.) These actions, however, do not fully address all the problems GAO found. (See p. 21.) The Highway Administration's Manual on Uni- form Traffic Control Devices describes de- vices that can be used in construction zones. It does not contain enough information on how and when these devices should be used. Until uniform standards for using these de- vices are established, State planners, project officials, and Federal inspectors will not have sufficient guidelines for safe highway worksites. (See p. 15.) Highway Administration field offices have not developed procedures describing the scope and frequency of inspections, nor have State and Federal officials been adequately inspect- ing the safety of construction zones. Federal officials attributed these failures to com- peting time requirements and lack of knowledge. They regard construction zone safety as a comparatively lower priority issue. (See p. 19.) Planners and State and Federal project in- spectors need training in construction zone safety techniques. Little has been ac- complished by the Highway Administration to satisfy these needs. (See p. 16., By developing additional guidance on how and when to use traffic control devices, by irm- provin~g field office inspection procedures, and by providing training, the Highway Ad- ministration and the States can greatly in- crease the safety of motorists, pedestrians, and work crews. (See p. 21.) The Secretary of Transportation should direct the Administrator, Federal Highway Administra- tion, to: ---Revise the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to include specific guidance on how and when to use traffic control devices in TarLw het construction zones. TurShcrt ~ ~ ~ ~ ii -- Require training to help insure that Federal and State officials are made aware of the importance of construction zone safety and have the capability to plan for, implement, and inspect these safety measures. -- Establish field office inspection procedures to identify hazardous conditions and insure that they are corrected. The Federal Highway Administration generally agreed with the GAO recommendations. (See p. 22.) iv C o t en t Page DIGEST i CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION 1 Importance of construction zone safety 1 Federal-State responsibilities 2 Scope of review 3 2 IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED TO ACHIEVE CONSTRUCTION ZONE SAFETY 4 Highway construction zones are not safe 5 Recent actions to improve management 13 Program guidance inadequate 15 Increased training needed 16 Construction plans need to be strength- ened 17 State supervision should be imprcved 19 Highway Administration monitoring needs to be improved 20 Conclusions 21 Recommendations 22 Agency comments and our e;aluation 22 APPENDIX I Sites visited during our review 24 II Our observations for three projects visited 25 ABBREVIATIONS AASHTO American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials GAO General Accounting Office CHAPTER 1 INTRODUCTION Over the past 21 years, the Federal Government has given States about $85 billion for constructing and reconstructing Interstate and other Federal-aid highways. Recently, States have been using increasingly larger portions of their Federal- aid funds to preserve and upgrade the initial investment. For example, between fiscal years 1970 and 1975, State obligations of Federal-aid funds for reconstruction increased by 223 per- cent from about $560 million to $1.8 billion. More recent obligational data for fiscal year 1977 showed that almost $2.3 billion had been used for upgrading--an increase of 27 percent since 1975. In addition, the Congress has recognized the need to maintain the quality of existing highways. Through the Federal-Aid Highway Act of 1976 (Public Law 94-280), the Congress provided $175 million annually for fiscal years 1978 and 1979. These funds were specifically for reconstructing-- rehabilitating, restoring, and resurfacing--Interstate high- ways in use over 5 years and not used as toll roads. As State reconstruction activity increases, increasingly higher volumes of traffic will have to be routed through or around active construction zones. Federal Highway Admin- istration records showed that during fiscal year 1977 about 13,100 miles of existing Federal-aid highways had been under construction. Because these construction zones are poten- tially hazardous, adequate traffic management techniques must be employed to insure motorist, worker, and pedestrian safety. In addition, generally rising traffic volumes will compound the problems associated with managing traffic in construction zones. IMPORTANCE OF CONSTRUCTION ZONE SAFETY Construction zone safety encompasses those activities that provide for safe, expeditious movement of motorists and pedestrians through construction and maintenance zones and for the protection of the work force. This matter has been a subject of concern in recent years for the Congress, Federal Highway Administration, and organizations concerned with highway safety, such as the Na- tional Advisory Committee on Uniform Traffic Control De- vices, the National Highway Safety Advisory Committee, the Center for Auto Safety, and the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). A 1 common belief, supported by numerous reviews, is that mean- ingful action must be taken to make construction sites safer. Since more hazards exist during construction, traffic accidents are more likely to occur at that time. While no national statistics are available, several studies support the contention that accident rates are higher in construction zones. One study, based on 1965 statistics of construction zones in California, showed that the overall accident rate increased by 21 percent during construction, whereas the fatal accident rate increased 132 percent. In April 1977, a consulting firm prepared for the Department of Transporta- tion a report entitled "Accident and Speed Studies in Con- struction Zones." This study covered 79 projects and 20,000 accidents in Colorado, Georgia, Michigan, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Washington. Higher accident rates occurred on 69 percent of the projects. Further, in 24 percent of the projects, accident rate increases of 50 percent or more were experienced. Another study of a project in Virginia indicated the overall frequency of accidents increased 119 percent, with fatalities going up by 320 percent. In an Illinois review of two toll roads under construction, researchers reported vehicle crashes increased 160 percent. FEDERAL-STATE RESPONSIBILITIES The Highway Safety Act of 1966 (80 Stat. 731) requires each State to have a highway safety improvement program ap- proved by the Secretary of Transportation. The objective of the program is to reduce the deaths, injuries, and property damage caused by traffic accidents on the Nation's highways. The overall effect of the act was to involve the Federal Government directly in the quality and quantity of State high- way safety operations by providing Federal funds and issuing standards and guidelines. Our review focused on Highway Administration and State efforts to protect motorists and pedestrians in highway construction zones, as part of the overall safety improvement program required by the 1966 act. The Highway Administration is responsible for developing program guidance and approving State highway safety improve- ment plans and proposed construction projects. In addition, it monitors State performance to assure that Federal stand- ards are met. The States and local jurisdictions, in designing and constructing individual highway projects, are responsible for assuring that adequate advance warning, guidance, and regulation of traffic are given the motoring public around 2 these sites. To accomplish this, States are to use Highway Administration program guidance in designing project specifi- cations, inspecting construction sites, and initiating needed changes. SCOPE OF REVIEW We reviewed the Highway Administration's guidance for insuring safety in highway construction zones, Federal and State planning procedures and training activities, the ade- quacy of safety provisions at worksites and Federal and State inspection procedures. We reviewed construction zone safety efforts at the Highway Administration headquarters, Washington, D.C., and at its regional offices in Atlanta, Georgia, and Fort Worth, Texas. We visited its division offices, the respective State highway agencies' central offices and selected field offices in Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, New York, Ohio, Texas, and Washington. We inter- ,iewed Highway Administration, State highway, or local juris- diction officials at the 26 pLojects we visited in the seven States. In addition, we verified the severity of the safety hazards we observed Aith a representative of a consulting firm that had developed a construction zone safety training course for the Highway Administration. 3 CHAPTER 2 IMPROVEMENTS NEEDED TO ACHIEVE CONtRUCTION ZONE SAFETY The Highway Administation is responsible for assuring that State highway agencies provide adequate construction zone safety on federally assisted reconstruction projects. Despite the Highway Administ-ation's expressed concern for construction zone safety from 1966 to as recent as September 1976, hazardous conditions were evident at each of the proj- ect sites we visited. State and Highway Adiinistration field officials were not giving construction zone safety enough consideration when designing, implementing, and inspecting highway construction projects. The varying deficiencies we found in State highway agen- cies' construction zone safety practices indicated that the Highway Administration's interest had not always reached the project level. Ar a result, motorists, pedestrians, and workers faced hazardous conditions at highway construction projects. In our view, failure to adequately deal with con- struction zone safety matters occurred because: --State highway and Highway Administration field offi.- cials did not always approach highway construction in a manner that adequately addressed the afety problems motorists encounter in highway construction areas. -- Some officials believed that other matters, such as construction requirements and environmental quality, had higher priority than construction zone safety. -- Highway Administration guidance provided very limited information on how and when to use appropriate traf- fic control devices. -- State highway and Highway Administration field offi- cials were not adequately training their personnel. Recently the Highway Administration has developed train- ing courses and initiated a large research effort in this area. It also proposed that the States be requi::ed to de- velop procedures to insure preparation of traffic control plans for each reconstruction project. 4 These efforts should increase the Federal emphasis on construction zone safety. However, the Highway Administra- tion needs to take additional steps to insure that its em- phasis is reflected in safety provisions made by State high- way agencies to adequately design, implement, and inspect for safety. H:?GHWAY CONSTRUCTION ZONES ARE NOT SAFE Using information gained during our participation in a Highway Administration-sponsored training course on con- struction zone safety, we inspected 26 construction sites in seven States and found unsafe and hazardous conditions at each site. (See app. I for a list of the projects.) Although some States had relatively safe projects, the overali fre- quency and seriousness of the conditions as illustrated in the following photographs show that the Highway Administra- tion has not been successful in achieving adequate safety in construction zones. -- Pavement dropoffs up to about 7 feet deep were not adequately marked for day or night visibility. ;·e·=. _ A'' is~~~~~~~s The following photo shows the motorist's view of the excavation pictured on page 5. Red plastic streamers were tacked onto wooden construction forms to warn motorists of the hazard. However, the forms 4id not adequately mark the hazard because they did not show -p well, particularly at night. 6i -- Construction equipment and material were stored close to traffic lanes. This crane was left on the road shoulder overnight. The equipment's proximity to traffic and poor reflectivity cre- ated an extremely hazardous condition. At night, motorists surprised by its presence mad, erratic maneuvers into the left traffic lane. The fenced-in area contained various sizes of water and sewage pipes and was flush with the edge of the traffic lane. Lack of reflective markings on the fence caused a hazardous condition at night. 8 -- There were failures to provide for pedestrian traffic. \ 1 3 ! Pedestrians were forced to walk in a traffic lane to cross the street. -- Large pieces of concrete, sandbags, heavy steel forms, and timbers 12 inches square and 5 or 6 feet long were used to anchor or stabilize drums, barricades, or sign frames. These obstacles could become deadly missiles if struck by a vehicle. -v Heavy steel forms were used extensively at one project to anchor metal drums in the manner shown above. 10 Lt L:T::X: I~~~~~I -·- , B ri__ ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~h- Three sandbags were placed on top of this drum for added weight and stability. 11 A piece of concrete was used to stablize this drum. -- Barricades obstructed motorists' vision at intersec- tions. The driver's view of the semitrailer approaching from the right was obstructed. 12 other conditions we observed included: -- Traffic control devices were dirty and not properly maintained. --Traffic control devices did not provide for the safe movement of traffic from one lane to another. -- Warning signs, preceding the construction site, were missing on some projects and, on some others, were so wordy and numerous that they were confusing. Within the boundaries of the projects, signs were not used ;.hen needed, aid not permit adequate response time, and were contradictory to other signs at the location. Unsafe conditions resulted from signs protruding into the roadway or being mounted so low as to be nearly invisible. Signs applicable to day work only were left uncovered at night. -- Temporary striping was not always used. It; absence on some narrow roads bordered by pavement dropoffs and curves made driving hazardous. At some locations, existing striping should have been obliterated because it could mislead motorists. -- Timber beams, used as positive barriers and for de- lineating traffic created unsafe conditions because most were pooriv maintained, nonreflective, and dis- connected, often causing them to protrude into the lanes of traffic. -- Poor flagging procedures were widespread, including failure to give advance warning of the operation, provide for flagmen when needed, properly equip the flagmen in required attire, and remove flagging warn- ings when the operations ceased. While the preceding safety defects shown by these pho- tographs may seem obvious, other problems, such as moving traffic safely from one lane to another, are not. RECENT ACTIONS TO IMPROVE MANAGEMENT The Highway Administration has initiated several ac- tions to improve motorist, worker, and pedestrian safety in construction zones. Its emphasis on this problem was designed to strengthen procedures for assuring that States achieve safe construction zones. This emphasis, however, is not adequately addressing the problems noted during our review. 13 In May 1976, the Highway Administration said States needed to give more attention to motorist safety in con- struction zones. It initiated action to provide national leadership for assuring proper attention to public safety in construction zones. Specifically, it recommended that States (1) improve preliminary planning for safety, (2) as- sign responsibility for motorist safety to qualified person- nel, (3) provide training programs as needed, and (4) inspect safety conditions at construction sites. In implementing this, Highway haministration regional offices employed wide y varying techn.ques. For example, one office developed a specific program :'o determine the status and needed improvements to State-l' riteria for plan- ning and managing safety efforts in col icticon zones. An- other regional office did not issue an N jidance for imple- menting this emphasis. Through its inspections of State practices, the High- way Administration is aware of existing problems. In 1976, its review of 18 States' practices showed that the quality of traffic control procedures varied widely not only from State to State but also from project to project. Highway Administration followup reviews in 1977 showed several areas of improvement; however, it concluded that continuing prob- lems were sufficiently serious to warrant further attention. To further its emphasis, on August 25, 1977, the Highway Administration published a notice of proposed rulemaking for improving construction zone safety in the Federal Register. The rule would require each State to (1) develop a Process Management Plan for obtaining safe construction zones and (2) prepare detailed traffic control plans for each Federal- aid highway construction project. It would also require contracting agencies to designate a project level official to be responsible for and have sufficient authority to im- plement project safety plans. The Highway Administration has addressed training and research by -- sponsoring a training course entitled "Traffic Con- trol for Street and Highway Construction and Mainte- nance Operations" t - States' use; -- contracting for development of two additional courses on construction zone safety matters; -- preparing slide presentations on barriers, barricades, and pavement markings in construction zones; and 14 -- initiating a multistudy research effort. As discussed in the following five sections, more High- way Administration actions are needed. PROGRAM GUIDANCE INADEQUATE The Highway Administration has issued standards and other program guidance to assist States to design and imple- ment safe construction projects. The standards for construc- tion zone safety include the Manual on Uniform Traffic Con- trol Devices and the highway safety standards developed in response to the Highway Safety Act of 1966. The Highway Administration also considers the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials' publication entitled "Highway Design and Operational Practices Related to Highway Safety" as guidance. Combined with the AASHTO publication, the standards and the manual provide some man- agement principles for construction zone safety. The manual describes what devices may be used to achieve safety. This guidance, however, provides little information on how, why, and when these devices are to be used. Instead, the Highway Administration relies on its field offices and State highway agencies to use general program guidance and professional engineering judgment as the bases for assuring that its field offices and State highway agencies (1) develop adequate construction zone safety plans, (2) critically in- spect the worksites, and (3) assess and satisfy Federal and State training needs. Safety standards The standards on highway design, construction, and main- tenance and traffic engineering services are regulations de- signed to protect motorists, pedestrians, and highway workers. The first standard points out that construction zones require special attention because the accident potential is much greater than for normal highway conditions. Together, the two standards cite several specific prin- ciples of work zone safety, including (1) need to shorten construction time, (2) limitation of construction operations to "offpeak" hours on high-volume highways, and (3) appro-- priate guarantees for safety within construction contracts and plans. Recognizing that poorly maintained traffic con- trol devices lose their effectiveness and can impair high- way safety, the Highway Administration recommended that the States periodically inspect all traffic control devices and correct potentially hazardous conditions in construction zones. 15 Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices The manual prescribes the traffic control devices that may be used in construction and maintenance operations to regulate, warn, and guide traffic. But it fails to provide sufficient detail on why, when, and how the approved devices are to be used. As a result, the Highway Administration must place heavy reliance on the professional engineering judgment of State and Federal officials. Highway Administration officials acknowledged that the manual had deficiencies, including ambiguities in describ- ing how to achieve safe construction zones. While speaking before members of the Institute of Transportation Engineers, the Associate Administrator for Safety said, "Admittedly, the manual is vague on its requirements for construction zones and should be improved.' Other highway safety organizations and researchers have also recognized the need for better program guidance. One said that the manual should be redirected to provide optimum motorist guidance instead of an apparent overemphasis on oper- ating efficiencies and liability avoidance. A second said that, in the absence of standards mandated by regulation, safety is often sacrificed in the interest of speed and economy because safety procedures can be time-consuming and costly. The Highway Administration recognized major problems with its guidance for construction zones and in December 1976 ini- tiated a comprehensive review. It is currently revising the manual and estimates completion in July 1978. The revised manual, however, will not include information on how to apply these devices because Highway Administration officials con- sidered this information supplementary to manual provisions and were fearful that including this criteria would increase State legal liability. This rationale, however, is incon- sistent with current manual provisions which already include mandatory, advisory, and permissive conditions. INCREASED TRAINING NEEDED There is general agreement that insufficient knowledge of and concern for construction zone safety can contribute to increased safety hazards. Project officials should not only be aware of motorists' needs, but also have sufficient engineering knowledge to provide a safe driving environment in construction zones. Several State and Federal officials we interviewed expressed a need for additional educational 16 efforts at the project level. Others made comments assigning much of the responsibility for construction zone safety prob- lems to motorists' driving habits. According to the Highway Administration and some of its researchers, there is a need for construction zone safety education at the project level. -hway Administration field offices are responsible for untifying and meeting their own construction zone safety gaining nseeds and for advising the States on solutions to their training requirements. Most Highway Administration field offices we visited had not been actively working vith the State highway depart- ments in addressing State employee training needs. Only two field offices had recommended that States establish formal training programs. Further, State highway agencies had not satisfied their training needs. None had formal courses dealing with construction zone safety and few State per- sonnel had attended the Highway Administration's comprehen- sive training course. While some Highway Administration field office personnel have attended safety slide presenta- tions (see p. 14), these presentations are not a sufficient hasis for overall management of construction zone safety. We could not identify any other training courses for construc- tion zone safety being used by the Highway Administration field offices we reviewed. Several State and Federal officials indicated that motorists needed to exercise more caution through construc- tion zones. For example, one State official said the motor- ists are noe assuming enough responsibility when driving through the construction zone and that construction zone safety practices would never meet all Federal standards because the State's numher or-, priority was completing the project. In another instance, we called a project engineer's attention to barricades which obscured motorists' vision. His response was, "If the motorist's view is obscured, he will be more careful entering the roadway." The need for training is demonstrated further in the following sections on construction plans and inspections. CONSTRUCTION PLANS NEED TO BE STRENGTHENED AASHTO has stated that when traffic is maintained through construction work zones, a well thought-out and executed traf- fic plan should be prepared during the design of the project. According to AASHTO, a carefully developed plan combined with constant surveillance can produce safe and expeditious traffic flow through construction operations. 17 The Highway Administration has required States to pro- vide for motorist safety at highway worksites. However, thus far, it has not provided States with sufficient informa- tion on how to design and implement safe construction zones. Other organizations concerned with highway safety have recognized the importance of planning. For example, a re-- search organization and the Center for Auto Safety have urged that such items as lane tapers, pavement marling, and bar- riers should be specifically considered when developing con- struction zone safety plans. According to the Center, ad- dressing such items more specifically for each project would assure timely consideration of features having a material ef- fect on construction zone safety. Highway Administration field offices are responsible for reviewing project designs and specifications to help insure that State highway agencies adequately consider construction zone safety for each project. However, its field offices dt not have specific procedures requiring thorough and systematic evaluation of such efforts. As a result, the extent of pro- visions in State project designs and specifications for work- site safety vary. In discussing the variations, State and Federal offi- cials told us that the amount of detailed planning for construction zone safety practices was left to the judgment of the responsible project personnel. According to a Highway Administration headquarters official, Federal and State offi- cials at the project level lack sufficient appreciation and knowledge to adequately address the problem primarily because of the low priority given to construction zone safety in the past. Designers often relied only on a set of standard plans depicting typical situations. Although this may be a valid approach on projects where no unusual conditions exist, we found that fewer hazardous conditions were present at the sites where designs and specifications were more detailed. This was particularly true in Ohio where designers were re- quired to prepare a detailed construction zone safety plan for all projects. In addition to the standard advance warning signs, a typical plan included provisions for such items as sign and arrow board placement, lane tapers, equipment storage, and temporary pavement markings. In contrast, construction zone safety plans in Missouri and Texas contained little detail. In Missouri, four urban 18 projects characterized by high traffic densities and con- struction complexities hdd dangerous dropoffs and detours. However, project designers included only standard plans which did not address many of the unsafe conditions we observed. In Texas, an urban project had pavement dropoffs up to 3 feet in depth and needed temporary lane striping throughout the project, but neither condition was addressed in the standard plans used in the project design and specifications. STATE SUPERVISION SHOULD BE IMPROVED During construction, the State highway agencies are re- sponsible for supervising the construction zone safety prac- tices of their contractors. The need for diligent and con- tinual inspections of projects for hazardous conditions is widely acknowledged. For example, AASHTO said that as a minimum, "drive-throughs" should be made at the beginning and end of each workday. It has also recommended that: "Responsibilities must be assigned in order to assure proper supervision of the placement, relo- cation, and removal of traffic control devices during the progress of the work. Supervision must be constant and consistent from the first to the final day of the job." Traffic safety measures are usually the responsibility of the State's project engineer or his designee. Wa found that State construction zone safety inspections in sente cases were inadequate and in other cases were not performed. On several projects we reviewed, project engi- neers said that completing projects within calendar and bud- get limitations was much more important than construction zone safety. A Highway Administration official pointed out that another competing priority at the State level was insur- ing construction quality. One State official said that, be- cause of these comp,.ting priorities, maximum construction zone safety will probably never become a reality. Some project engineers reviewed their projects only when they drove to work in the morning and again as they returned home in the afternoon. Highway Administration officials told us that more emphasis must be placed on education so that proj- ect engineers will know why such things as "proper signing" are essential and what must be done to insure that the proj- ect is adequately designed and maintained to route traffic safely through it. 19 The Highway Administration's training course on con- struction zone safety suggests that more thorough inspec- tions be made through the use of checklists in evaluating the effectiveness and proper maintenance of such things as traffic control devices. For the 26 projects we visited, the only instance of a checklist being used was by a State project engineer in Washington. AASHTO said nighttime drive-throughs must be made to evaluate the adequacy of lighting and reflectorization, but officials in five of the States we reviewed said they were not required to make night inspections. We found that night inspections were not regularly perfcrmed in any of the States we visited. One project engineer said he had never made a night inspection on his project since its inception in the fall of 1976. Several of the hazardous conditions noted dur- ing our visits were found during nigh': observations. HIGHWAY ADMINISTRATION MONITORING NEEDS TO BE IMPROVED Highway Administration field offices are responsible for inspecting construction sites to insure that States are properly signing and marking construction worksites. How- ever, there is no program guidance specifying how often the engineers should inspect traffic controls or what the extent and content of these inspections should be. Instead, the scope and frequency of inspections are left to the engineer- ing judgment of the field office director or the respective engineer. Inspection reports are formal mechanisms for document- ing construction conditions and keeping State highway agency officials apprised of Highway Administration monitoring efforts. Inspect.on reports we reviewed were prepared as part of overall construction project reviews to assess the status of construction, but they seldom identified construc- tion zone hazards. Although one Federal official said Highway Administration field officials would document deficiencies only if they were unable to obtain corrective action, we noted that there were unsafe conditions which existed at the time of the inspections which were not documented and which had not been corrected. The safety problems noted at three proj- ects are discussed in detail in appendix II. In addition, since the engineers were not required to tour the sites at night, such inspections were usually not made. Some engineers said they usually drove through the project if they happened to remain in the vicinity over- night. 20 The reasons for poor inspections at the State level also exist at the Federal level. According to Federal officials, these include a lack of knowledge of how or what to inspect, a general lack of understanding about the level of effort needed to insure safe conditions, and competing time demands, such as the time required to complete environmental impact statements. CONCLUSIONS The Federal Highway Administration headquarters has strongly emphasized safety in construction zones. How- ever the many hazardous conditions we found at construction worksites indicated that it has not been successful in estab- lishing this same level of concern in its fielc offices and State highway agencies. Compared with their responsibilities for completing projects within scheduled time limits and in- suring construction quality, they perceived construction zone safety as a lower priority. The Highway Administration recognized many of the prob- lems associated with achieving safe construction zones. It proposed regulations that, if implemented, should result in better traffic control and should address the potential haz- ards at each worksite. It has also initiated significant research efforts, developed and sponsored training programs, and is working to upgrade its manual of acceptable traffic control devices. These efforts, however, do not entirely address the problems we identified. For example, although Federal offi- cials were not adequately inspecting worksites for traffic safety matters, little effort had been directed toward improv- ing these Federal inspection procedures. The Highway Administration has not provided sufficient guidance on the proper application of traffic control devices in construction zones. Because of this lack of guidance and the failure to fully satisfy training needs, we believe State and Federal officials did not always know how and when to use the control devices. The Highway Administration places heavy reliance on its field offices and State highway agencies to protect motor- ists. To accomplish this objective, the Highway Administra- tion needs to provide specific application guidelines, develop better inspection procedures, and promote additional training on construction zone safety. Training should also be required 21 so project level officials become aware of safety needs in construction zones and develop the ability to plan, implement, and inspect projects for these needs. RECOMMENDATIONS We recommend that the Secretary of Transportation re- quire the Administrator, Federal Highway Administration, to: --Revise the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to include specific guidance on how and when to use traffic control devices in construction zones. --Require training to help insure that Federal and State officials are made aware of the importance of construc- tion zone safety and have the capability to plan, im- implement, and inspect these safety measures. -- Establish field office inspection procedures to iden- tify hazardous conditions and insure that they are corrected AGENCY COMMENTS AND OUR EVALUATION We discussed the above matters with Highway Administra- tion officials and considered their views in preparing this report. They acknowledged that the driving environments in construction zones sometimes contained safety problems and that additional actions were needed to mitigate these dangers. The Highway Administration is relying on implementation of the proposed construction zone safety regulations and revi- sions to the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices to accomplish these needed improvements. It estimates the final regulation will be issued in February 1978. Highway Administration officials said that the Manual on Uniform Traffic Control Devices describes what devices may be ised but does not contain enough information on how and whei to use them. They told us that they were thinking aLout developing a separate handbook that would contain such guidance. However, we believe that it would be more appro- priate to include this information in the manual because it officially sets forth the basic principles that govern the design and usage of such devices. Highway Administration officials agreed that their field offires were not frequently inspecting projects. Although they objected to developing checklists as management tools, they oelieved their field offices should develop procedures for reviewing the effectiveness of provisions for construction zone safety. 22 Highway officials acknowledged the need to train their field officials and State highway personnel on how to plan and implement safe construction zones. They said that the proposed regulations would require States to provide infor- mation on training needs and that Highway Administration field offices would then determine the sufficiency of the proposed training to meet those needs. We believe that, in adopting this regulation, the Highway Administration should insure that training needs are fulfilled at the project level, including an explanation of the importance of and methods for achieving construction zone safety. The Highway Administration has expressed concern about safety problems in construction zones for over 11 years. Although it has taken some actions that should help improve safety in construction areas, our recommended additional actions are necessary to achieve construction zone safety. Since the field offices do not make detailed reviews of each traffic control plan, it is especially important that addi- tional guidance and training be provided to State officials. Further, tc maximize the effectiveness of its field offices, the Highway Administration should establish inspection pro- cedures to identify and correct safety hazards in construction zones. 23 APPENDIX I APPENDIX I SITES VISITED DURING OUR REVIEW Average vehicle daily States Project number Type Length traffic (miles) Louisiana 1-10-5-(176)233 Urban 1.Q 95,720 Louisiana M-9391(002) Urban 1.4 26,200 Mississippi ROS-008-I(28) Rural 0.3 12,000 Mississippi RF-014-2(12) Rural 7.6 3,500 Missouri TQF-66-6(4) Urban 3.0 39,930 Missouri M-5575(601) Urban 1.5 13,000 Missouri M-5575(602) Urban 0.5 13,000 Missouri M-5575(603) Urban 0.4 83,700 I-TQFI-81-2(127)077/ Urban New York I-TQFI-690-3(36)214 8.6 78,000 New York I-UI-690-3(35)208 Urban 7.0 23,100 New York M-5055(1) Urban 1.5 57,900 New York I-278-1(160) Urban 10.7 63,800 Ohio I-IR-70-7(62)200 Rural 3.3 13,550 1-70(51)156/ Rural Ohio RFI-UI-70-7(61)156 3.5 40,000 Ohio I-IR-71-3(66)80 Rural 10.3 Not available Ohio I-IR-71-3(59)91 Rural 3.4 Not available Texas MQ000(1) Urban 2.0 14,500 Texas MQ021(1) Urban 1.0 28,200 Texas 1-30-5(38'053 Urban 0.3 Not available Texas 1-30-5(41)052 Urban 5.0 81,940 Texas MS002(1) Urban 1.8 26,180 Texas TQMS265(1) Urban 2.3 20,210 Washington I-90-1(112)15 Rural 0.9 19,000 Washington I-90-1(107)16 Rural 1.3 14,900 Washingtcn I-5-1(112)35 Rural 1.5 28,000 Washington I-5-1(114)39 Rural 1.3 24,300 24 APPENDIX II APPENDIX II OUR OBSERVATIONS FOR THREE PROJECTS VISITED PROJECT 1 Ocean Parkway Brooklyn, New York Date started: 8/16/76 Length: 1.5 miles Number of Federal Highway Administration (FWHA) Inspec- tions: 1 FHWA inspection findings Maintenance and protection of traffic was satisfactory. The inspection was performed in November 1976. GAO Observations in May 1977 This project consisted of resurfacing a badly detteri- orated six-lane street through a heavily populated residential area. Traffic was maintained on two outside lanes in each direction, while the two middle lanes were under construction. The project was characterized by heavy pedestrian traffic, narrow traffic lanes, and numerous intersections. The engineer-in-charge had previously withheld payments to the contractor and was considering assessing further penalties for failure to comply with traffic safety measures. The engineer had cited some deficiencies noted during our inspections just 2 days prior to our visit. He had suggested the contractor appoint someone fulltime to traffic control. During our visit we noticed: -- Timber curbs were not connected together and protruded into traffic lanes. The ends at intersections were not tapered as required by project plans and, therefore, were blunt 12-inch obstacles to oncoming traffic. (See photograph, top p. 26.) 25 APPENDIX II APPENDIX lI -- The lack of crosswalks at a number of intersections (as required by the project plans) forced pedestrians to use traffic lanes when crossing the street. -- Unnecessary striping was not obliterated at inter- sections. This tended to contradict the direction in which timber curbs channeled trafric. Therefore, motorists were receiving conflicting guidance. --Flagmen were not always used when needed. (See follow- ing photograph, top p. 27.) In instances where workers were directing traffic, they did not wear reflective attire or comply with flagging procedures set forth in the manual. -- Amber reflectors on top of metal bars were dirty and not reflective at night. Many of the metal bars were bent and often projected into the traffic lane. --Materials were stored in a fenced enclosure which abutted the street curb and were not reflectorized for night visibility. (See photograph, p. 8.) -- Traffic control devices were in poor condition. 26 APPENDIX II APPENDIX II -- Confusing and superfluous siqns were common at in- tersections. -- Some signs were too wordy for quick comprehension. (See following photograph.) 27 APPENDIX II APPENDIX II PROJECT 2 Lindberg Boulevard St. Louis, Missouri Date started: Fall 1976 Length: 3 miles Nurmber of FHWA Inspections: 0 GAO Observations in May 1977 This project consisted of widening a street and a bridge and installing traffic signals. Traffic was sometimes con- gested and speeds varied from about 25 mph to 40 mph, depend- ing on the time of day. The site engineer described the project as one of the toughest he had supervised, with the worst set of construc- tion zone safety plans he had ever seen. Throughout the project, there were deep excavations and shoulder dropoffs which presented formidable hazards not addressed in the plans. He said the plans included no details for detours, and, for the most part, traffic control had been left to his judgment. For instance, the plans originally specified only four barricades for the entire project when, according to the engineer, that many could have been used at just one intersection. The site engineer's project inspections consisted of a cursory review as he drove to and from work. He had not inspected the project at night. We observed the following conditions. -- Culvert excavation, ranging in depth from 3 to 7 feet, was inadequately delineated throughout the project. At one location, for example, a crane was used to mark the hazard by being parked on the road shoulder in front of the excavation. The equipment was dif- ficult to see at night and presented a hazard as great as the one it was marking. (See photograph, p. 7.) -- Traffic control devices were extremely dirty and in poor condition. -- Pavement dropoffs were marked with cones which were adequate during the day but were not readily visible at night. 28 APPENDIX II APPENDIX II -- Excavated portions of the street were not completely shut off to traffic. Poor lighting and improper maLk- ings made these locations hazardous. -- "Open Trench" signs were difficult to see--too low and in the excavation instead of preceding it. (See following photograph.) X-- " .. '' . - -.: -- At one intersection permanent and temporary stripinq gave motorists conflicting messages. The permanent striping led directly into grading work adjacent to the street. This was particularly hazardous at night since drivers had to make a sharp turn while receiving simultaneous but conflicting messaaes on which way to go. 29 APPENDIX II APPENDIX II PROJECT 3 Wurzbach Road San Antonio, Texas Date started: June 10, 1976 Length: 2 miles Number of FHWA inspections: 3 FHWA inspection findings None. GAO observations in March 1977 This project involved widening a two-lane road to four lanes. Two lanes remained open at all times. Driveways to many small businesses along the road complicated the project. Although the speed limit had been lowered temporar- ily to 20 mph, the :raffic normally flowed between 35 and 40 mph. Grading operations were in progress adjacent to the two lanes open to traffic, and dropoffs up to 10 inches deep were common. The site engineer advised us that he inspected the proj- ect at night only if he happened to be in the area, and even then the inspection was only a cursory drive-through. We observed the following conditions: -- There was no temporary striping on the portion of the road open to traffic. This created a hazard since the two lanes were narrow and the motorists were often confronted with a sekere dropoff. (See photographs on the next two pages.) 30 APPENDIX II APPENDIX II -- Warning devices marking hazardous drops were located as much as 300 feet apart, as shown in the photograph below. 31 31 kPPENDIX II APPENDIX II -- Barricades used to mark access drives to a shopping center obstructed the view of drivers entering the busy roadway from the shopping center. -- Temporary speed limit signs adjacent to normal speed limit signs gave conflicting instructions to motor- ists. --An arrow sign attached to a barricade was used to mark an obstruction on the side of the road. The arrow suggested a turn where there was no need to turn. (34260) 32
Highway Construction Zone Safety: Not Yet Achieved
Published by the Government Accountability Office on 1977-12-23.
Below is a raw (and likely hideous) rendition of the original report. (PDF)